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The Suburbanite
  • FRANK WEAVER, Jr.: Is Connecticut Raining On Our Parade?

  • I DON'T KNOW about you, but personally, I'm becoming annoyed at the way the state of Connecticut seems to be undermining that of which we here in the Buckeye state are quite proud.

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  • I DON'T KNOW about you, but personally, I'm becoming annoyed at the way the state of Connecticut seems to be undermining that of which we here in the Buckeye state are quite proud.
    What's that? You say you're in the dark as to what I'm referring? Well then allow me to bring you out of the 19th century and into the 21st. I'll begin … well … okay … at the beginning.
     It's bad enough that Connecticut tried to take so much of our land with their Western Reserve claims back in the 1700s. Now they say our beloved Wright Brothers weren't the first to fly an airplane. They claim some unknown immigrant flew in their state and was the first.
    What's next? Claiming that John Glenn wasn't the first American to orbit the earth or that the late Neil Armstrong wasn't the first human to walk on the moon? Or that the Portage Lakes didn't have its own air landing strip at one time (more on that in a future column)? I'll tell you, folks, these crazy claims from that Yankee state in the northeast are falling on us faster than a walnut rolling off a hen house roof.
     Anyone who knows me and knows my love of history can readily understand how befuddled or even ferhoodled I am. Actually, I may be stuck somewhere on this subject betwixt befuddlement and ferhoodlement!
    Think back.
    Can you imagine how you might have felt in high school during your final history exam answering that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly and then finding out you were wrong – losing that only chance for a full boat academic scholarship and instead having to do manual labor for a living? It's enough to have a history nun turn over in her grave!
    Many readers know I was born and raised on a farm in the Dutch Country of Pennsylvania, but by golly that doesn't mean I leave my allegiance back there with the Pennsylvanians. I've been here since the 1960s and I consider this state to be my home. And as such, I don't appreciate anyone dissing it.
     This annoyance of mine is caused by the latest from cyberspace. According to the Internet, historians now disagree over who was the first to fly. Their news feed a few weeks ago indicates that Connecticut is trying to swipe that honor from Ohio and its two native bike shop Buckeyes.
     According to that little New England state new research promotes the theory that German immigrant Gustave Albin Weisskopf, who Americanized his name to Gus Whitehead, flew for a half mile at an altitude of 50 feet in his No. 21 airplane on Aug. 14, 1901. This is said to have happened two years, four months and three days before the Wright Brothers' Dec. 17, 1903 historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers flew for 852 feet at an altitude of 10 feet for 59 seconds.
    Page 2 of 2 - The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC gives credit for the first flight to the Wright Brothers. However, supporters of Whitehead claim that the Museum has no choice. That the Wright Brothers forced them to sign a contract that states they can never ever say anyone else flew a self-powered aircraft before the Wright Brothers did or else surrender the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk aircraft exhibit.  
    Over the years, established aviation historians, especially those associated with the Smithsonian Institution, have dismissed reports and claims about Whitehead flights. Early aviation historian Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith dismissed the August 1901 newspaper article about a Whitehead flight as "juvenile fiction," and concluded the claims that Whitehead was the first to fly in a powered flight craft were false.
    While rummaging through a dusty museum attic in Bavaria, one Whitehead researcher came across a picture from a 1906 exhibition on flight innovation. On display in the background of that picture was another picture … a photo of what looked like Whitehead's No. 21 airplane in flight.
    Peter Jakab, associate director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, finds it "a little puzzling." He says a photo of Whitehead's first flight the supporters claim to have is too blurry – after all, it was enlarged by 3,500 percent.
    To his mind, it's really trying to see what anyone wants to see in the image. Jakab described the photo as a picture of a picture on the back wall of an exhibition and insisted that it's very, very indistinct.
    Jakab and his colleagues at the Smithsonian firmly believe that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly. There are clear and crisp photos to prove it. And he discounts the numerous newspaper stories about the Whitehead flight. According to Jakab, a news story is written, and it goes out. It appears in many, many publications. That doesn't mean that every one of those is a separate, eyewitness account.
    But Jakab also claims he would never let a contract stand in the way of a historical fact. If there was some sort of personal sanction as to how he interprets the evidence, he wouldn't. But if he does decide that Whitehead flew first and the Smithsonian loses the plane, then so be it. For now, Jakab isn't budging.
    But whoever is right, there are sure to be new monuments, museum exhibits and maybe even new license plates. How about one that reads, "CT is wrong…Ohio is Wright!"
    Comments may be emailed to: Frankweaverjr@aol.com